AP news editor gives debrief on Boston bombing coverage


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As east regional editor for the Associated Press, Karen Testa directs AP's news reports for 10 Northeastern states.

She's wondering if, somehow, she's cursed the news gods, considering this list of tragic stories in her territory over the past half-year: Superstorm Sandy, Newtown school massacre, the Boston Marathon bombings and the Ariel Castro kidnapping case in Cleveland.

Testa reflected on the incredible run of breaking news in addressing the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors annual meeting May 17 in Harrisburg.

The marathon bombings were still particularly fresh at that time, and Testa noted how that situation was particularly challenging for her for these three reasons: she's a Bostonian, she's a competitive runner and she's the mother of an 8-year-old.

Of course, an 8-year-old boy was among the three people killed April 15 when two pressure cooker bombs exploded near the finish line of the annual event.

What would become an intense, long, emotional week of work for AP's staff started with an irony: reporters and photographers were on-site for coverage of the marathon - ideal for a quick response to the bombings. But, with the top finishers having finished hours earlier, the AP staff members were in the media room at the nearby Weston hotel filing their stories and photos. When the bombs went off, the hotel was locked down for the next four to five hours.

AP photographer Charles Dharapak, however, would not be denied in his effort to get to the street. He got through two lines of security to get out of the hotel, driven by a sense of responsibility to do his job and record this piece of history, no matter how awful the images.

And they were awful.

Editing was a challenge, Testa and AP east region photo editor Jacqueline Arzt Larma told the group. Photo crops that didn't sanitize the severity of the moment but yet didn't "repel" readers was the goal. Online products give editors leeway in allowing more graphic images to be published, Larma noted.

She also said that while Dharapak's exchange with one of the guards who tried to stop his exit from the hotel wasn't particularly pleasant, nor was the scene that had unfolded along Boylston Street, he was struck by the "beautiful kindness" of those who aided injured people that day.

Testa noted that AP Mobile "blew away" all of its site-visit records during the marathon bombing coverage, which culminated with the arrest that Friday of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. AP Mobile had nine million page views that day.

News highlight

Locally, we bow to Mother Nature once again for this week's news highlight. Monday night's unexpected deluge of rain sent our staff scrambling on deadline to cover residential flooding throughout the greater Shamokin-Coal Township area. Photographer Larry Deklinski captured the moment with a woman shin-deep in water at a street corner, and our story took readers through conditions as of about 11 p.m. Fortunately, damage from the heavy rain wasn't nearly as widespread as what the region experienced in September 2011; still, for a few hours, it felt painfully familiar.

(Heintzelman, editor of The News-Item, writes "The Week In News" for each Saturday edition.)

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